These 166-year-old Cuban cigars may still be smoked

'Soggy and limp,' they were salvaged from an 1857 ship wreckage.
Sejal Sharma
Cuban cigars recovered from SS Central America
Cuban cigars recovered from SS Central America

Hollabird Western American Collections/Campwillowlake  

One would think that cuban cigars which lay on the bed of the Atlantic ocean for 134 years would have perished by now. Specially when they went down with a steamer ship that got wrecked so badly in a hurricane that it killed over 400 passengers onboard.

But life’s full of surprises. Those cigars survived, after they were recovered in 1991- and now they are up for auction.

These 166-year-old Cuban cigars may still be smoked
Seven of the 37 cuban cigars up for auction.

The wrappers are still in excellent condition, says Fred Holabird, the President of Holabird Western Americana Collections, the organization that is holding the auction between March 4 and 5, 2023.

These 37 cigars, along with other artifacts, are part of an auction of items recovered from the wreckage of SS Central America, known as the 'Ship of Gold,' which sank in 1857.

How did the cigars survive?

Bob Evans, chief scientist who was on the recovery missions said, "It is cold on the SS Central America shipwreck site, a very consistent 2 to 3 degrees centigrade (about 37 degrees Fahrenheit)... Essentially, it is a dark, high-pressure, salty, deep-sea refrigerator."

He explained that the passengers’ trunks found in the debris field around the main shipwreck site were not breached or opened. Although not watertight, the leather shell of the trunks limited water circulation. Soon after sinking, all the oxygen was used up, and anaerobic conditions prevailed for most of the 130 plus years before two trunks were recovered, including a 'Mr. Dement’s’.'

These 166-year-old Cuban cigars may still be smoked
37 cuban cigars were found in passenger John Dement's trunk.

"When we opened the Dement trunk we saw a few dozen cigars that had been placed on top of clothes and other items. Soggy and limp, the cigars were carefully placed on a fiberglass screen and slowly freeze-dried over the next few months to preserve them," Evans added.

'Ship of Gold,' the greatest lost treasure in U.S history

The ‘Ship of Gold’, was a steamer ship which operated between the west and east coast of the United States.

In one of its voyages in September 1857, it was carrying a little over 550 passengers and $2 million worth of gold ($300 million today), when it sank in a raging hurricane.

The ship went under, off the coast of the U.S state of South Carolina, carrying down with it approximately 425 passengers including the captain. The rescue operations were able to save some 150 people.

These 166-year-old Cuban cigars may still be smoked
Gold recovered from SS Central America.

The gold was lost, until 128 years later in 1985 the Columbus-America Discovery group was formed, since the potential recovery of this large amount of gold was an economically attractive proposition. The group was only able to recover one tonne of gold coins and bars from the wreckage.

The sinking of SS Central America at the time was comparable to the Titanic in this century.

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